Mombasa City is the second largest City in Kenya after the country’s Capital City Nairobi . Lying next to the Indian Ocean with a major Port and an International Airport. The City also serves as the center of the coastal tourism industry. Its name derives from Manbasa, the Arabic name of the former sultan of Mvita, which had its capital here. In modern times the City was the headquarters of the former Coast Province.
The City is located on Mombasa Island which is separated from the mainland by two creeks: Tudor Creek and Kilindini Harbour. The island is connected to the mainland to the north by the Nyali Bridge, to the south by the Likoni Ferry and to the west by the Makupa Causeway, alongside which runs the Kenya-Uganda Railway. The Port serves both Kenya and landlocked countries, linking them to the Ocean.
Mombasa City History
The city’s history is a mixture of African, Persian, Arab, Portuguese and British influences which contributed to the rich cultures found in the city today. Mombasa, a great trading centre with several items such as glass, brass, copper, iron and rhino horn passing through the coast, was originally inhabited by the African Bantu people. The Jordanians visited the City in 6th century, Persians in the 9th and 10th century and thereafter Arabs. In this period the Arabs and Persians developed trading routes, commercial centers and contributed to a flowering of civilization reflected in the glorious architecture of their grand houses, monuments and mosques.
Over the centuries Mombasa struggled with numerous foreign invaders and hostility. The Portuguese, the ferocious Zimba tribe, and the Omanis have all tried to take over Mombasa since the 12th century.
By the 15th century, Mombasa was a thriving, sophisticated city with established trade routes to China, Persia, and India. Around this time the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama discovered the city while on a voyage around Africa to find the sea route to India. After a period of less than 5 years the Portuguese returned to attack the city. Five years later, Almeida, another Portuguese seafarer, plundered the port and 23 years later the Portuguese mounted another raid. The invaders then occupied Mombasa, building the impressive Fort Jesus and dominated the entrance to the old harbour, between 1593 and 1598.
The Arabs made several attempts to regain the town but, the Portuguese, supported mainly by supplies from their Indian colony, Goa, hung onto it for around 100 years. The occupiers were finally defeated in the siege of Fort Jesus which began in March 1696. Portuguese and Indian soldiers eventually relieved the Fort in September 1697, but they could not break the siege. The centuries of conflict earned Mombasa the name “the island of War”
Later the Arab’s triumphed scaling the walls of the fort. Intrigue and rivalry between competing Omani rulers led to a decline in trading along the coast and Mombasa fell under the rule of the Mazruis, who were finally overcome by the Omani leader, Bey Saidi Sultan Sayyid Said in 1822 (whose remains are still buried in Mombasa today). Two years later, the British warship HMS Leven arrived in Mombasa.
Answering to the appeals of the Mazruis, the commander, Captain Owen, agreed to declare the city a British protectorate, in return for a promise from the Mazruis to abolish slavery.
During this period, Mombasa prospered under the Sultan, underpinned largely by the slave trade. However he came under increasing pressure by the British to end the practice and in 1845, he was forced into a treaty that severely restricted this activity. In 1886, in an agreement between Britain and Germany, the territories of Kenya and Uganda were assigned to the British while Tanganyika (Tanzania) came under the rule of Germany. The Imperial British East Africa Company set up its headquarters in Mombasa in 1888. It was the springboard for the colonization of Kenya and the beginning of a British dominance in the country that was to last until independence in 1963.
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By the late 1800s it became the base of exploration for British expeditions to Kenya’s interior. In 1988, the Imperial British East Africa Company set up headquarters in Mombasa. British rule of Mombasa became official in 1895 when they leased a stretch of the coast including the port city from the Sultan of Zanzibar. Officially this coastal strip still belonged to Zanzibar until ceded to a newly independent Kenya in 1963.
The British affirmed Mombasa’s importance as East Africa’s most vital port when they completed a railway in 1901 stretching from Mombasa to Uganda. Today, the city remains one of Africa’s major links to the rest of the world. Built on a 15 sq km island, Mombasa is surrounded by a natural harbor. The mainland coasts north and south of the city boast a proliferation of tourist resorts. Within the city itself, a traveler has numerous opportunities for exploration and discovery.
Remnants of slave trade can still be seen today around the town. Fort Jesus still contains cells where the slaves were held, and various artifacts from that era.
Mombasa as a Tourist Attraction Centre
The City is bestowed with such beautiful beaches with white sandy beaches and a deep historical and cultural heritage that most travelers cannot resist, the beauty of the beaches and the history surrounding this city is simply marvelous. Just 16km outside the city of Mombasa is the Shimba Hills national reserve, here one can see forest elephants, the endangered sable antelope Sykes monkeys etc and the Sheldrick waterfalls. Shimba hills national reserve is one of the last remnants of coastal tropical forests.
Fort Jesus is Mombasa’s most popular tourist attraction. The fort, located along the coastline near the Old Town, is a monumental piece of architecture that was built in the 16th century by the Portuguese. The fort has a museum that displays various artifacts from the era where Mombasa served as a transit point for the slave trade and commodities, and which enjoyed regular visits by seafarers and the like. Its interior comprises of torture rooms and prison cells where slaves were kept in captivity before being traded. Weapons such as canons, which were used to defend the fort from invading foreigners as well as rioting locals, can be seen both inside and outside of the fort. The fort opens its gates for viewing in the morning and closes at dusk.
Mamba Village, which is situated in Nyali, is East Africa’s largest crocodile farm. A tour of the farm starts with a movie on the life cycle and behaviour of crocodiles, followed by a comprehensive tour of the rest of farm, and ends with the highlight of the day: a spectacular scene of blood-thirsty crocodiles fighting for food during feeding time. Excellent cuisine is available at the Mamba Restaurant, and the house specialty is superbly grilled crocodile meat. Souvenirs of your visit can be bought at the Mamba Souvenir shop located within the village.
The Haller Park (formerly Bamburi Nature Trail) is the largest animal sanctuary in Mombasa. Located in Bamburi next to the Cement Factory, the park boasts an enormous variety of animals, reptiles, insects and botanical gardens. Walking along the trail is the ideal way to look at the various animals, and on many occasions holding or feeding a reptile such as a snake is allowed under close supervision of a guide. Educational videos are also shown, with emphasis on the the history and continuous improvement of the trail. It was previously a barren piece of land that had been stripped of its resources through limestone mining, and was redeveloped through reforestation and conservation efforts, and is now a habitat for a large number of flora and fauna species.
The Mombasa “Tusks” are symbolic representations of entrance into the heart of the town. The tusks were built to commemorate the visit of Queen Elizabeth to the town in 1952, as they lay directly on the path from the port to the town. Ivory was considered to be an exquisite commodity during the time, and in essence the tusks were meant to embrace the Queen and the British Empire into the town and within its social structure. Coincidentally the tusks also spell the letter “M” for Mombasa.